REF view too narrow, partially cited or not (1 of 2)

September 29, 2011

My colleague Andrew Oswald suggests that the use of journal league tables (based on citations and impact factors) would be better than the judgement of quality offered by research excellence framework panels ("Data be damned: REF's blueprint for systemic intellectual corruption", 22 September).

When I asked him to give me the names of the journals my department ought to be targeting, he replied that there are different methodologies that give different results, so he did not have a preferred list. The choice of how we ought to count citations and calculate impact factors is therefore subjective. I suspect that what he is advocating is no more evidence-based than what he is criticising.

But the point is not just a theoretical one. The fact is that the REF is already having an enormous impact. It is not, as it describes itself, a "system for assessing the quality of research in UK higher education institutions"; if it were, this might lead us to expect judgements to be made about each institution in a systematic survey of what academics have actually achieved. In practice, the REF panels get to see only whatever outputs institutions choose to submit. Making these choices is a serious matter that carries significant risk if universities get them wrong.

The statement in the REF guidelines, "No panel will make use of journal rankings or journal impact factors in the assessment", cuts little ice in the real world since few believe it to be true: as every academic knows, many departments, especially in ambitious universities, are deciding their REF submissions precisely on the basis of these factors. Many maintain explicit lists of journals with star ratings, or which are identified as "REFable". This simplifies the management of research because the outputs do not need to be read - a glance at the journal title is sufficient.

The REF lacks credibility. The fact that it is a two-stage game prompts the question of what happens to the non-submitted research that goes unread. Often this is innovative or interdisciplinary, yet it is marginalised because it is in the wrong journals.

Dennis Leech, Professor of economics, University of Warwick

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

sitting by statue

Institutions told they have a ‘culture of excluding postgraduates’ in wake of damning study

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate